Pre-read journal articles and book chapters

Class

If you’ve ever read assignments with a highlighter in your hand, then you know how quickly everything seems important enough to mark. Unfortunately, it results in a near-solid yellow page.

Save yourself the headache of repeating that mistake by starting a study or writing session with the essential information already identified.

Here’s how to pre-read for key terms and concepts:

  • Read the title and subtitle. Look more closely than you might otherwise:  a  good author/publisher uses them to give you the key concept, or at minimum, set a tone.
  • Read the article abstract or the chapter summary for the foundational information. All the basics on who, what, when, where, why, and how will be located here. If you can retell a summary in your own words, you have most of what you need from the piece of writing. Everything else will be supporting details. (And reading the details should wait until you understand what they will support.)
  • If there are sections headers, read those next as they are very nearly an outline.
  • Skim the topic sentences. Usually the first sentence in each paragraph, topic sentences are the paragraph overview. If a paragraph begins with a quote or story, look to see if the author summarized the paragraph or section by putting the topic sentence as the final sentence in the paragraph.

A quick read using only the topic sentences should provide enough overview to decide whether to read the entire piece. You will get all the key information on the topic, including a sense of the variety of details the material contains. (You won’t get, and shouldn’t aim for, depth during a skim, but how much depth would you retain on a first-read anyway?)

After the skim, you can decide if an article deserves a deeper reading, if the piece is a suitable source for your research paper, or if you need to find another article. For textbook chapters, the quick read prepares you for the second, deeper, reading you will need to do. (The good news:  you may have your highlighter back at this stage.)

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